We made annual pilgrimages each and every summer to go 'home' and see the family. This is one of the reasons that I still consider myself a Pittsburgher. During these trips, we went to see grandparents, aunts and uncles and the rest of the family. It was during these trips that I was introduced to sports.
My god-father is an avid runner, waking up before the sun came up, feet continually pounding the dew laden pavement each and every morning. I can vividly recall many a morning watching him trudge his way back down the winding road yearning for the last few strides to be over. As he came down the driveway a smile would appear on his face as he saw me waiting for him to return. We would walk into the garage, stopping at the fridge to grab a quick drink and then we would go to the store. There was nothing special about the store, just a convenience store, he would make his way through the store grabbing a few things (I was not paying attention) making his way back to the register, he paused and grabbed a pack of baseball cards, smiled at me and threw them down with the rest of his items.
When we climbed into the car, he grabbed the pack of cards and handed them to me. Having never seen sports cards before, I looked at him as to find out what I should do... "Open them". My four year old hands could not pull the wax paper off the cards quickly enough. This was my nirvana, the cards appeared to glow in my hands, sixteen pieces of cardboard with glossy pictures, a fabric sticker patch with a batting helmet and of course the best tasting piece of gum I ever tasted.
It was in that moment that we shared a moment that I will never forget. As I shuffled through the cards, he noticed a Pirate and even more importantly the fabric sticker in the pack was a Pittsburgh Pirate batting helmet. I was hooked, that sticker made it's way on to my jacket and I proudly became a Pirate fan that day. Over the next few days we returned to that store, and I would just run from the car to the counter, not worrying about anything but my baseball cards.
Needless to say, this ritual continued and my love for the Pirates grew with each and every pack. Better yet, I came to find that they have football cards, and basketball cards and hockey cards, luckily this was not all at the same time as that would have been too much for me to wrap my four year old mind around. I now had a purpose, I was going to get all of my players, each and every season. This was before card shows and 'cheating' by buying individual cards, I was going to do it the right way, buy a pack with every quarter I came across and find my guys. Anybody that has ever opened a pack of cards knows the feeling that overwhelms you at that moment, the ritual of 'got'em, got'em, got'em, need'em, need'em' as you rifle through one pack after another is unique to that experience. The euphoria of finding the next Pirate, the next Steeler, and the next Penguin was second to none.
So here we are some 30 years or so later, the prices have gone up, the cards are fancier, the gum is gone, but every once in a while, I turn back into that four year old little boy, grab a pack of cards and rifle through them looking for my guys.